The gyrating hips and chiseled chests swiveling to the tunes of electronic loops and heavy lighting in a male strip club is hardly the setting I expected from Steven Soderbergh. Especially after his previous gray-toned, quiet action thriller "Haywire." But then again, it's impossible to put your finger on what Soderbergh (who has directed nearly 10 movies since 2008) will release next, as he balances between low-budget indie king and big-studio powerhouse -- whether it be a star-studded picture about the end of humanity, "Contagion," or a dark portrayal of a prostitute in New York, "The Girlfriend Experience."
"Magic Mike" will garner a lot of talk, mostly for the bare cheeks of Hollywood's newest playboy Channing Tatum. The film is in part inspired by Mr. Tatum, who before breaking in as a dancer and model, chose to turn down a football scholarship and instead worked a slew of odd jobs including a stint as an exotic dancer. Here the wandering dropout is played by Adam (Alex Pettyfer), who crashes with his sister Brooke (Cody Horn), while trying to figure out where his life is going. He takes a job at a construction site where he meets Mike, part-time construction worker, part-time stripper.
Mike brings Adam along to Xquisite. Adam is apprehensive at first but jumps on stage to strip to "Like a Virgin." He is hooked. Pettyfer does a wonderful job painting a lost 19-year-old, impressionable and eager to define himself. But this is Tatum's film.
If there were a role to turn Tatum from heartthrob to leading man heavyweight, this is the film. Despite what the trailers would have you believe, Soderbergh creates a mix of comedy and drama that goes much further than leather chaps and sixpacks. In the same vein as P.T. Anderson's "Boogie Nights," on stage Mike is exhilarating, he has a twinkle in his eye that lets us know that he is aware of how much women desire him. But behind closed doors he is filled with anxiety and doubts about his future.
He has sold himself to Xquisite and its owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), but his real desire is to be a custom furniture designer.
Gradually we learn more about Mike. He has put his real dreams on hold with the promise of getting a piece of a nightclub Dallas hopes to build in Miami. Dallas talks to his guys as a father, but there is always an air of condescension, and we doubt his true intentions.
Mike has sold himself out for the pleasure of the moment, but is it too late to crawl back out and start over?